Thursday, April 10, 2008

Public Displays of Aggression

This isn't really the place for this conversation, but ACD over at Sounds & Fury doesn't allow commenting in his house, presumably out of fear that the "proles" — which is to say, you and I — might scribble on the walls with crayons. So, faute de mieux en effet, here we be.

Mr. D has his knickers in a twist over my suggestion that Alan Rich's vile 2006 bitch-slapping of music critics Adam Baer and Chris Pasles might not have been, y'know, his finest hour. Yet in one of those wonderfully self-refuting moments of which he is himself a connoisseur, ACD makes my point for me by adding "(whoever they might be)." The fact that Baer and Pasles cast such comparatively small shadows upon the musical-critical landscape is precisely what makes the act of going after them — and doing it in such a bloodthirsty fashion — so small, and so unworthy.

Bernheimer, now — Bernheimer is another story. Whatever your views on the merits of Rich's 100-year crusade against Bernheimer, there's no denying that the powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times was at any rate a target worthy of his efforts. Bernheimer had an enormous influence on the cultural life of Southern California for a very long time. If you felt, as Alan did — and felt passionately, as only Alan can — that that influence was malign, then it became a moral imperative (and, let's face it, probably a pleasure as well) to combat it tooth and nail. But Adam Baer, the young freelancer? You've gotta be kidding me.

The inability to distinguish between those two kinds of aggressiveness has always been a flaw in Rich's writing, and it's a flaw that ACD's chest-beating paeans to "courage" and "hair-mussing" and "offensiveness" share in spades. To put it another way, Alan's willingness to say whatever is on his mind, regardless of consequences, comes in two flavors (both in print and in person). One is courage, properly understood; the other is merely thuggishness. I think it's important to celebrate the first while deploring the second.


At 4/10/2008 6:43 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

Yep, yep, yep. I await the inevitable updates at sounds & fury. Undoubtedly they'll be there when I get home from SFS tonight.

At 4/10/2008 8:14 PM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

Alex Ross doesn't have comments either. Just sayin'.

There's no denying that the powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times was at any rate a target worthy of his efforts.

Yeah, too bad Alan Rich was bringing the writing equivalent of a slingshot to the writing equivalent of a gunfight.

Yes, Bernheimer had much influence here and yes, he could be a major headache for people he didn't think were doing good work/took a dislike to, and towards the end it was apparent that he was sick of sitting through yet another push-button run through of the Beethoven 5th simply because it was his job to do so and he took that out on the performers in a very harsh way, but how is that different, in any substantial way, from the repeated roastings that Franz Welser-Most gets from Donald Rosenberg in Cleveland now? It's a flaw in the system of being in a one-paper town, the sole critic has outsized influence.

What about the influence of Eduard Hanslick? Olin Downes? Julius Korngold?!?! They may not have been in one-paper towns, but compared to them, Bernheimer was a piker.

When Bernheimer was here, no one I knew took/takes the Herald-Examiner or, after that folded, the Daily News, seriously. The LA Weekly is a local laughingstock, something most people only even read to find out when a movie was playing or find an apartment. The Times was and is the dominant force here and I don't see that ever changing.

You want to talk about someone who was influential here, it was Charles Champlin. He was the lead film critic from the mid-60's until the early 90's, for a time was also the primary book reviewer AND he was editor of the arts pages for a long stretch. Martin Bernheimer ripping a bus and truck production of Swan Lake doesn't even begin to compare to a man who could influence Hollywood box office with a review.

If you felt, as Alan did — and felt passionately, as only Alan can — that that influence was malign, then it became a moral imperative (and, let's face it, probably a pleasure as well) to combat it tooth and nail.

Wow! I can hear the music swelling in the background as plucky Alan Rich, armed only with bile and a word processor, attempts to slay the evil, malign dragon Bernheimer!


I'm sorry, but what you see as Alan Rich fighting the good fight, I saw as an inferior talent almost crazed with jealousy and envy that *he* wasn't in the position Bernheimer was, a position he blatantly thought was his due. I shudder to imagine what Alan Rich would have been like with the platform that Bernheimer had.

Just for the record, I am not Martin Bernheimer's sock puppet, president of his fan club or related to him in any way. :-)

At 4/10/2008 10:34 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

There's a new posting at Sounds & Fury, as I predicted.

Alex Ross & comments: he'd need to hire an assistant if he opened comments on his blogs. He gets a multiple of the hits of any other classical blogger, as far as I know.

At 4/10/2008 10:40 PM, Blogger Joshua Kosman said...

Alex Ross doesn't have comments either. Just sayin'.

That's true, and a) I wish he did. But b), more importantly, he doesn't go around stirring up all kinds of confrontational shit-storms and then retreating behind his moat yelling "No tag-backs!" This may just be my prodigious respect for Alex speaking, but I doubt that the commentlessness of his blog and the benign style of his posts are entirely unrelated. Just sayin'. is that different, in any substantial way, from the repeated roastings that Franz Welser-Möst gets from Donald Rosenberg in Cleveland now?'s not. I think you missed my point here. I'm not railing against the influence of Bernheimer, or any critic in a one-paper town (hell, I'm one myself nowadays). It is, as you say, an unavoidable function of the system.

All I'm saying is that the extent of that influence makes the wielder of same a legitimate target. If I were the music critic of the Cleveland Weekly Voice, and I thought Welser-Möst were a precious cultural asset in danger of being driven out of town by Rosenberg's ill-informed and tin-eared pans (hypothetical, hypothetical), I'd be ashamed to look myself in the mirror if I didn't take every chance I had to militate against him.

Nor am I taking Rich's side in this skirmish (my own allegiances in Rich v. Bernheimer are fairly ambiguous). It's not that I think Rich was fighting the "good fight," as you put it; only that he was fighting a legitimate fight. In contrast, yet again, to l'affaire Baer.

At 4/11/2008 4:46 AM, Blogger A.C. Douglas said...

That's true [that Alex Ross doesn't allow comments on his blog], and a) I wish he did. But b), more importantly, he doesn't go around stirring up all kinds of confrontational shit-storms [like ACD does] and then retreating behind his moat yelling "No tag-backs!"

With all due respect, Mr. Kosman, that's an absurd charge. I welcome "tag-backs," but done properly: cross-blog.

Recently, Kyle Gann bemoaned the deleterious effect his open comments section was having on his blogging. I replied to that complaint in his post's comments section, which reply can be read in full here:

The part pertinent to your above charge read:

BTW, I disabled the comments function on my blog from Day One, and enable it on a post-by-post basis only on those rare occasions when I'm seeking information. I disabled comments not for the reason you describe above, but simply because I take the view that if someone wants to argue with anything I've written he can damn well start his own blog for the purpose as that can be accomplished in pretty much the same time and at the same cost (zero) as commenting on my blog. And that's the thing, actually. It's *my* blog, and what's written thereon are *my* views, and I flat-out refuse to have *my* blog serve as a publishing platform for the views of others.

And that's why Sounds & Fury has no open comments section -- well, that and to keep out the crayon-wielding proles.


At 4/11/2008 9:26 AM, Blogger Dan Johnson said...

Does Gann have an open comments section? I thought all comments were subject to his approval. At any rate, the fact that his blog is open to dialog is one reason I read it daily. I'm not going to blog about every single person I disagree with on the internet! That's what comments sections were invented for.

The only reasons to silence discussion on your own blog are (1) the traffic makes it totally unmanageable, or maybe (2) you like being talked about but don't want to be held accountable on your home turf.

At 4/11/2008 10:32 AM, Blogger Douglas Boyce said...

here's a thought: let's just not read S&F anymore. There's never anything particularly thoughtful or thought provoking, and he's clearly not interested in generating a dialogue th makes his blog more thoughtful, so why do we bother? i fear that through posts and responses like this (good and accurate and thoughtful as they are)we give him what he wants. (martyrdom, oppression, et c.)

just a thought...


At 4/11/2008 10:38 AM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

Douglas - not a bad idea!

Dan - right on about why one would not have an open comments section.

ACD - you feel free to comment on others' blogs. Really, if you truly believed the only proper response is on one's own blog, you'd never comment.

Joshua, I couldn't conjure up that posting we were talking about last night, alas. I hope your review mentions the annoying problem with the de Falla: no supertitles, lights so far down the libretto couldn't be followed.

At 4/12/2008 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget his animus against "teenage Oriental violinists" like Sarah Chang (now well into her twenties and terrific)

or his backhanded comments on the passing of Daniel Cariaga, "everybody admired his forbearance and his good humor, and the fact that he never wrote beyond what he knew."

Or his rants against concert series and composers who didn't kowtow to him.

And so forth.

The Voice's business staff did the right thing by firing this filthy sack of manure.

At 4/13/2008 4:03 PM, Blogger Grant said...

Every print newspaper, like every blogger, is selective about the music events attended and reviewed. That necessarily skews one's sense of the music life, and it skews the range of what people can read.

Alan Rich generally records his impressions about two events each week in the LA Weekly, and the LA Times doesn't review the majority of music happening in the area. This means that much of the music life of L.A. simply isn’t being recorded – accordingly, one should welcome Alan’s thoughts on a blog, because then he will have the opportunity to write about all that he hears.

Unlike theater or film or visual art critics, MSM classical music critics cannot generally influence audiences because their publication dates are often after the last performance date. Blogs, on the other hand, can give an audience an indication of what the blogger is going to attend, as OutWestArts in L.A., does. Similarly, pre-concert lectures are far more helpful in learning how to listen to music than an already outdated review. And the increasing number of music blogs give people a wider range of how people can feel radically different about the same musical event.

Everyone who writes necessarily has a sense of what one writes is truer than not and fairer than not. Where a handful of MSM critics take it upon themselves to be the gatekeepers of a tradition, the reader can respect the passion and the writing style but can’t really engage the critic in any meaningful way. (What does it mean to say that one has fallen out of love with Brahms? Doesn’t that say to a new listener, why bother falling in love with Brahms at all? Yet, people can’t help falling in love, and people never really know when they’re going to do so, and it can be at the most unexpected times with the most unexpected works or players. Going to a blog like Jeremy Denk’s after one has heard Ives’ Concord Sonata tells me a lot more about what I just heard than a few paragraphs that are a momento mori, even I was in attendance, because it shows me that my infaturation can turn into love justifiably.

Last night the Jacaranda series in Santa Monica performed Xenakis and Stockhausen’s “Stimmung.” Without knowing why, I felt transfixed and even transfigured. Structure became something more than a framework. Simplicity more than simple-mindedness. If more concerts are memorialized, whether in the MSM or on blogs, irrespective of the non-technical and emotive terms used, it’s likely that more people will take the risk of falling in love or at least of being surprised. And even if we’re merely entertained by the show and the fraternity of being with other listeners, who’s to tell us that our unreflective spirited reaction isn’t good enough? Performers know that there's a range of backgrounds and ability to be open to new things in their audiences, but infectiously joyful is always better for the performers than sullenly critical And applause is not forbidden to critics.

The best critics are open to new interpretations, and the fact that a piece was better performed 50 years ago is more a mark about how much easier it was to fall in love when younger because it seems when younger we always meet more people who are themselves full of love for the music they play and the effort it takes – always incomplete – to respect the music as completely as it demands.

Besides, one’s own interpretation can change radically over time. From any one performance, it’s very hard for a performer to know whether a composition is bad or a diamond in the rough that can come together with rewriting or different performers. As I always try to eat something weird a second time after the visceral reaction to the thought of even thinking of eating it the first time has been overcome, just to be a more fair judge, so I always like to hear a work that I didn’t like the first time played again. I no longer say that “Der Rosenkavalier” has too many sharps, or that Stockhausen or Lachenmann write out of the ruins of war. Indeed, I appreciate Stockhausen's comment to an elderly, crabbed performer asking why he should play Stockhausen's music because in all his old life he's never heard anything like it. "Because it will keep you young," Stockhausen replied.

At 4/13/2008 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bloggers are late to the party; bandying trite phrases like "MSM" doesn't change things. There has been serious, substantive, ongoing discussion of classical music on the Internet for quite a long time. There's terrific writing to be had on the Moderated Classical Music Mailing list and the classical music Usenet newsgroups. All of which predate blogging. Bloggers, especially those surviving critics, are free to participate in those forums but don't and not surprisingly so. The caliber of analysis and writing skills on some of these forums are substantial and the current crop of critics are at risk of having their expository clocks cleaned by serious non-professionals. Blogs attract claques - most comments, when allowed, have the depth of the whoof of a sports-talk radio caller kissing up to the host.

At 4/14/2008 7:09 AM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

Anonymous - what's keeping you from posting your name? You really ought to, if you're going to make claims about who comments on blogs. Otherwise, there's no way to calibrate what you're posting. You could be Alan Rich, or Allen Ulrich, for all I know.

There's plenty of disagreement in blog comments. See this thread, for example.

Grant, really good posting.

At 4/14/2008 7:10 AM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

P. S. Of course, I'd be highly amused if Alan Rich was calling himself a filthy sack of manure.


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